DOT pushes safety message as road work begins
By Neal A. Shipman
With the North Dakota Department of Transportation (NDDOT) soon to begin work on the four-laning of U.S. Highway 85 from Watford City to Williston, it was only fitting that representatives of the NDDOT, the North Dakota Highway Patrol and the Associated General Contractors of North Dakota were in town last Friday to stress the importance of highway safety as the state begins its busiest construction season in history.
According to Grant Levi, director of the NDDOT, the state has already bid $872 million in road projects and has a budget of $2.3 billion for statewide projects over the next two years.
While road construction projects will be occurring throughout the state, according to Levi, the biggest highway projects will be centered in McKenzie County over the next two years with the four-laning of U.S. Highway 85, and the construction of bypass routes around Watford City and Alexander.
“We’re excited about the four-laning of U.S. Highway 85 from Watford City to Williston,” stated Levi. “The $300 million project will take a few years to complete.”
According to Levi, the new four-lane highway will have a 20 foot asphalt median with many safety features, such as rumble strips except at turn lanes.
“The NDDOT is also going to be working on bypasses to get the truck traffic out of Watford City, Williston and New Town,” stated Levi. “We are going to get the bids out this summer on the southern bypass of Watford City. We’re gong to be working on a very aggressive schedule to improve the quality of life out here.”
And all of that road construction is going to mean that motorists are going to need to use extra caution while traveling through work zones.
“The traveling public is going to find road construction projects throughout the state,” stated Levi. “Which is why we are encouraging motorists to buckle up and pay attention when they are traveling through work zones.”
“Last year, there were 257 crashes in work zones,” stated Levi.
For Brent Sanford, Watford City mayor, the improvements to U.S. Highway 85 can’t come quick enough.
“As home to 30 percent of the traffic fatalities in North Dakota, we welcome the focus of the NDDOT and the Highway Patrol to address these concerns,” stated Sanford. “We are also pleased that there will be three new Highway Patrol officers stationed in the county.”
According to Sanford, the four-laning of U.S. Highway 85 will help eliminate the rear-end accidents that have been occurring and improve traffic.
With McKenzie County currently having 40 percent of the oil rigs operating in the state, as well as having 40 percent of the state’s new drilling permits, Sanford says the county is at the epicenter of the state’s oil development.
And that means that oil traffic is going to continue to increase.
“There are 12,000 vehicles traveling between Williston and Watford City every day on U.S. Highway 85,” stated Sanford. “The traffic is very concentrated in McKenzie County. So the four-laning of this highway will be a significant improvement.”
During Friday’s safety meeting, Levi also stressed that when motorists encounter work zones, they need to obey posted speed limits, be patient and minimize distractions.
“Following these tips, especially in work zones, is critical as workers’ lives are at stake,” stated Sergeant Tom Iverson of the North Dakota Highway Patrol. “Last year, the patrol issued 800 citations in work zones, with the majority being issued for speeding.”